Academic journal article CineAction

People and Their Places in Antonioni's la Notte

Academic journal article CineAction

People and Their Places in Antonioni's la Notte

Article excerpt

Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte (1961) stands as the centerpiece of the director's so-called "trilogy of alienation." It's a daunting spot to be in, between the breakthrough in international art cinema that was L'Avventura (1960), with its daring narrative and character ambiguities, and the evocative, ethereal L'Eclisse (1962), which seemed to ultimately suggest an end to ... something. To be sure, there are parallels among the three: Antonioni's superb use of location as a window into the troubled and otherwise uncertain psyche of his characters; probing examinations of the struggles and consequences of a communication breakdown, especially between lovers; cultural critiques of a particular class of contemporary Italians and their concerns, trivialities, and frivolities.

With La Notte though, there is something more intimate. Be it the focus primarily on just two characters from start to finish (with an additional one on the periphery acting more as dramatic catalyst then full-fledged character) or be it the relatively limited setting (a full half of the running time taking place in and around one location), as a film, La Notte feels more contained. It's not necessarily a tighter narrative focus, as there is still plenty of room for moments of indistinct meaning and contemplative points to ponder, but as far as his features from the 1960s go, this is about as close as one gets to Antonioni protagonists and their private problems.

Antonioni is very much an internalized filmmaker. Predominantly, his pictures tend to focus on individual issues such as the disbanding of relationships, the struggle to converse and cohabitate in an increasingly modern and alienating world, and on the sufferings of one being alone. There is admittedly a coldness, or at least a considerable detachment, created between the spectator and most of his characters. Though his films look inward, they make sure to stay outside. In some ways despite this, starting arguably with II grido (1957), as his films progress they also veer into the direction of a character-driven, episodic narrative; yet they oftentimes eschew explicit and consistent motivation and clear causal factors. His pictures are not the types to sweep one away into the realm of far-flung fantasy or trifling action. The audience has to work at times to follow an Antonioni story; they have to adjust their filmic storytelling expectations. Formally, Antonioni also begins to experiment with a more noticeable, perhaps further distancing, stylistic design, calling clear attention to his filmmaking process. Self-conscious framings and camera maneuvers result in a clear recognition of his directorial objectives.

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These various constructions find a link, a bridge, through just one of many consistent features in Antonioni's films: the aforementioned use of location. Be it an assembled studio set, an existent, found locale, a landscape (used unmodified or ultimately manipulated by Antonioni), or a building or some other sort of architecturally relevant facade, he provides insight into character psychology, and he provides metaphoric motivation and explanation for character action, through his use of these locations. In this then, Antonioni is able to maintain that surface objectivity when it comes to the feelings of his characters, while at the same time providing exterior signs and signals as to potential internal desires, emotions, and fears. As author Seymour Chatman has stated, "If one had to select Antonioni's leading contribution to the art of cinema, it would have to be his way of relating character to environment. Refusing ... to treat background as mere decor there solely to 'establish' locale, he uses settings to represent characters' states of mind." (1) At times, a less-symbolic associative commentary is developed through his strategic use compositional features, resulting in exemplary use of metonymy in the cinema. In general though, through the external, he shows, and we find, the internal. …

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